Should Etihad Return To London Gatwick?

It’s been a while since Etihad Airways operated a service into London Gatwick Airport. Unlike other Middle Eastern carriers who continue to use this airport, Etihad has not publically announced any plans to return. Should it consider flying into Gatwick again? We take a look.

Airbus A380, Etihad
Etihad Airways at Heathrow. Should it return to Gatwick? Photo: John Taggart via Wikimedia Commons

Favoring Heathrow over Gatwick

It was back in 2007 when Etihad Airways withdrew its operations from London Gatwick Airport. At that time, it was operating a daily flight on a Boeing 777 between London Gatwick and Abu-Dhabi, continuing on to Sydney afterward. But, without much notice, Etihad decided to drop all operations within Gatwick, favoring Heathrow instead.

The truth was that the Gatwick route was not making much profit and there was the promise of better fortunes across the British capital in Heathrow. Not only did Etihad know that its Heathrow route worked but it also was able to secure more slots. As a result, it started a twice-daily route from Heathrow using it as a replacement on the London – Abu-Dhabi – Sydney route.

Speaking to Business Traveller at the time, a spokesperson for Etihad said that Heathrow:

“…will benefit passenger connectivity at our Abu Dhabi hub.”

In fact, the available slots at Heathrow made the journey a lot more convenient for passengers. There was better scheduling and better connections. From that point forward, there was no looking back. Etihad’s operation out of Heathrow continues to grow even to this day.

Should Etihad branch into Gatwick again?

With that in mind, it seems totally unthinkable that Etihad should return to Gatwick. It has a good deal at Heathrow, but is there something it’s missing?

There must be a reason that other Middle Eastern airlines continue to use Gatwick Airport and that’s because it’s profitable. Since Etihad has chosen to complete its London operation out of Heathrow, the airline is neglecting a portion of its potential customer revenue. For some passengers, getting to Gatwick is just easier and they won’t change their tune because they can’t fly with Etihad. They’ll simply fly with another airline.

Etihad Airways, B777
Could Etihad learn from its previous mistakes and return to Gatwick? Photo: Kwlothrop via Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, let’s not forget that Etihad was only running one operation out of Gatwick Airport and it was with a 777. Part of the reason that this Gatwick service didn’t work for Etihad was because of the aircraft type. It was simply too large. There’s no reason why Etihad couldn’t give Gatwick another try but with a different aircraft and gameplan.

Believing in its decision

But all those arguments are simply speculation. If Etihad is profitable in Heathrow, why not stick to what’s already working? Etihad already knows that Heathrow is logistically better than Gatwick and the mounting competition doesn’t really help.

Qatar Airways and Emirates operate out of Heathrow to the Middle East. That’s competition enough but Qatar also invested in more daily flights this past summer. For the summer season of 2019, Qatar ran three daily flights between Gatwick and Doha. Its enthusiasm was palpable and that’s the kind of contestant that Etihad would have to face up to.

Qatar Airways A350
If Etihad wants to return, it has some tough competition. Photo: tjdarmstadt via Wikimedia Commons

The bottom line

We contacted Etihad to ask whether it had any plans to return to Gatwick Airport. At the time of publication, a spokesperson was unavailable but from the current standpoint, it doesn’t look like Etihad will be venturing into Gatwick any time soon.

The crux of this debate really falls down to one question: what benefit would Gatwick bring that Etihad doesn’t already get from Heathrow?

No doubt over the years Etihad has asked itself that very question and its resounding commitment to Heathrow surely demonstrates that its answer is: not much.

Should Etihad return to Gatwick Airport? Let us know in the comments below!